Covid lockdown: Why Scotland's restaurants and pubs must be allowed to re-open as quickly as is safe and practical – Stephen Jardine

It was the most Scottish thing ever. After weeks of blue skies and sunshine, the hospitality sector finally reopened this week to grey skies and drizzle.

That mattered because with alcohol consumption still banned inside, the only place to enjoy a drink with friends and family is outside in a beer garden or terrace with the rain dripping down the back of your neck.

On Tuesday night, I joined a friend for his birthday dinner in a wee cabin in the garden of an Edinburgh hotel. It was lovely and because we were outside, we could have a drink. Although to be outside we had to keep the door open, despite the chill. If we closed it we would have been indoors. Although of course we could go indoors to go to the toilet. Still following this?

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The labyrinthian restrictions mean only about a third of bars and restaurants took the opportunity to reopen this week. With weather like this, no alcohol inside and an 8pm curfew, the majority decided it really wasn’t worth working through the rules simply to trade at a loss.

The hospitality sector has borne the greatest economic impact of the pandemic with lots of businesses going to the wall and many others taking on significant debt.

Scotland’s best-known chef has had enough. This week Michelin-starred Tom Kitchin warned Scotland’s reputation as a land of food and drink is at stake if more businesses and suppliers are allowed to fail and reopening isn’t sped up.

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Coronavirus in Scotland: Tom Kitchin hits out at hospitality Covid restrictions ...

He says restaurants are a super-safe environment thanks to masks, temperature checks and social distancing and the odd glass of wine in that controlled setting is a risk to no one.

Pubs are currently only allowed to service alcohol outside although some forms of outdoor shelter are allowed (Picture: John Devlin)

In recent weeks, the Scottish Hospitality Group has also questioned the lack of specific sector evidence to support the tough decisions that were taken to close the sector and keep it closed.

In response, the Scottish government points to the £3 billion made available to help affected businesses and the research which suggested the virus transmitted particularly readily in environments with close contact at less than two metres, and where ventilation may be poorer.

What’s done is done but with jobs and businesses hanging by a thread and an end to furlough support in sight, the emphasis now needs to be on reopening hospitality as quickly as is safe and practical. Currently the plan is to wait until May 17 to move to the next stage once we are sure recent relaxations have had no effect.

But the vaccine is moving things at a faster pace. With five out of six Scots living in areas with next to no infection and cases dwindling, accelerating the reopening of indoor hospitality by even a few days will make a difference. Every customer is money in the till after no income for most of the year.

For some that may feel too fast after so long in lockdown, tucked away safely at home. Those people may not yet feel safe enough to be out and about enjoying pubs, bars and restaurants and that is their choice.

But for the rest of society, reopening cannot come soon enough. We are social creatures and our personal well-being and that of the economy depends on lockdown restrictions ending as soon as possible.

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